February 4, 2013 in Nation/World

Hundreds attend funeral for heroic slain bus driver

Toy, Cheez-Its delivered to boy as Alabama standoff continues
Bruce Smith Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Jan Poland looks at her son Aaron as friends and family gather to pay respects for Charles Poland at the Ozark Civic Center on Sunday in Ozark, Ala.
(Full-size photo)

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. – As an Alabama standoff and hostage drama marked a sixth day Sunday, more details emerged about the suspect at the center, with neighbors and officials painting a picture of an isolated man estranged from his family.

Authorities say Jim Lee Dykes, 65 – a decorated Vietnam-era veteran known as Jimmy to neighbors – gunned down a school bus driver and abducted a 5-year-old boy from the bus, taking him to an underground bunker on his rural property. The driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., was buried Sunday.

Dykes, described as a loner who railed against the government, lives up a dirt road outside this tiny hamlet in the southeastern corner of the state.

The FBI said in a statement Sunday that authorities continue to have an open line of communication with Dykes. The boy requested Cheez-Its and a Hot Wheels car, both of which were delivered to the bunker, a separate statement said. Authorities had said they also were delivering medicine and other comfort items, and that Dykes was making the child as comfortable as possible.

In the nearby community of Ozark on Sunday, more than 500 people filed into the Civic Center to pay a final tribute to Poland, who was being hailed as a hero for protecting the other children on the school bus before he was shot Tuesday.

Poland is now “an angel who is watching over” the little boy, said Dale County School Superintendent Donny Bynum, who read letters written by three students who had ridden on Poland’s bus. “You didn’t deserve to die but you died knowing you kept everyone safe,” one child wrote.

School buses from several counties, with black ribbons tied to their side mirrors, lined the funeral procession route.

Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Dykes joined the Navy in Midland City, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. Dykes was trained in aviation maintenance and at one point was based in Japan. It was unclear if he saw combat in Vietnam.

Neighbors described Dykes as a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property, and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a firearm. Michael Creel said Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago.

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